Crime and justice conference a first for Minnesota

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The Council on Crime and Justice (CCJ) will host a public forum on June 28 entitled “Call to Justice: Reducing Racial Disparity and Enhancing Public Safety.” The forum will bring together an array of public figures, organizations, agencies and companies to discuss the racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

Topics of discussion include:
• Racial Disparities and Minnesota’s Changing Demographics.
• Causes and Collateral Consequences of Racial Disparity in the Justice System.
• The Linkage Between Consequences and Causes.
• Action Steps for Undoing the Racial Disparity Within the Justice System.

“This is a first for Minnesota. Nothing has ever been done on this scale,” said Guy Gambill, advocacy coordinator for CCJ, a nearly 50-years-old Minneapolis nonprofit agency that does research and advocacy for social justice.

“This is a large public forum with a wide buy-in. It involves research and a broad coalition of organizations moving to make something happen,” he said.

The idea for this forum was derived from a compilation of 18 research reports that document ways in which disparities are evident in the criminal justice system. The CCJ also has a history of being involved in Police Community Relations Council (PCRC) meetings, working with neighborhood organizations, and advocating for families of incarcerated people.

Demographic and socio-economic trend data used by the Itasca Project Consortium of more than 40 CEOs, mayors and community leaders, funded by the McKnight Foundation and the St. Paul Foundation, was also contributed to CCJ’s research and will be presented at the forum.

In these sources and many others, issues relative to disparity were found. The cause and consequences were clear, but it would require outside partners to approach solutions in a meaningful way.

From the 18 research reports, which will be presented by CCJ President Tom Johnson, one fact remains clear: Disparity in the criminal justice system should be addressed from the time an individual comes in contact with law enforcement. “Contrary to what has been done, [society] views the criminal justice system like a barbell, where barriers can be reduced at the court level. The fact is that all disparity begins at the point of contact. [Therefore], the disparity issue has been pushed through a small [tube]. Unless we concentrate at the beginning [of the process], we will always end up with a disparity,” said Sarah Walker, Call-to-Justice coordinator for the Council on Crime and Justice.

Traffic stops are one area of racial disparity. According to research done by CCJ, “Blacks are more likely to be searched and least likely to have contraband compared to Whites,” said Walker. According to the Call-to-Justice statistics on Minneapolis traffic stops, “African Americans accounted for 37 percent of traffic stops citywide, [but were] 18 percent of the population in 2000.”

Misdemeanor arrests for offenses such as loitering and driving offenses can be destructive to a person of color’s future due to criminal record accessibility. “Even if a case is dismissed, the record stays. This is a new restrictive characteristic in addition to race. Many arrests are never found guilty, but still [produce] a record. The justice system is being used to deal with problems that should be dealt with in the community,” says Gambill.

A revised expungement statute will also be presented by CCJ. “The proposed bill offers a balanced approach to alleviate the negative consequences of certain criminal records without jeopardizing its availability for use by law enforcement,” as stated in the general overview of the criminal record accessibility bill. “The burden of fixing [this problem] falls on the one arrested. It should fall on the state,” said Gambill.

CCJ also found that promoting family while a loved one is incarcerated also reduces disparity. “It benefits re-entry and even public safety,” said Gambill. “Communication needs to be maintained between the incarcerated and their families. Studies show that 80 percent of children with incarcerated parents will go to prison themselves. They need services such as mental health or even school counseling. This is where the partners would step in,” he said.

Based on a report from the Itasca Project, Minneapolis is on the verge of looking like Detroit by 2020 — both economically and racially. “Minnesota needs to pay attention to demographics,” says Walker.

“In Minnesota, between the years of 1990-1999, all the population growth came from communities of color. If we do not pay attention to disparity, the problem will grow with economic ramifications…producing an inhospitable economic environment. Public safety and employable educated workforce are amongst the top five things corporations look for when they decide to come to a city,” she said.

CCJ wants to play a supportive role to various organizations in taking the lead on issues that cause disparity or happen as a result of disparity. “We want to present recommendations and findings through the public forum and [evaluate] public reception and/or emerging ideas,” said Walker.

“We’ve found that the issues tend to be interrelated, but action has been non-successful. We hope that different organizations will see that these issues are interrelated and work together. We want to combine community action with research,” said Gambill.

There are currently over 50 partners involved across service and discipline areas. The problem of disparity in the criminal justice system falls overwhelmingly in the face of communities of color. CCJ is committed to providing service delivery by culturally trained people of diverse expertise.

The CCJ Call-to-Justice forum will take place Wednesday, June 28, at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), 1501 Hennepin Avenue, from 8 am to 4:30 pm. For more information, call CCJ at 612-348-7874 or visit “www.crimeandjustice.org”:http://www.crimeandjustice.org.

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